Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
Publisher: 2K Games
While we all wait for Borderlands 3 to finally happen it seems Gearbox want to give virtual reality some love with the release of Borderlands 2 for the Playstation VR, a timed exclusive that Sony gets for a whole year before it arrives anywhere else. So, is it worth jumping back into Gearbox’s looter shooter?
Considering the game came out six years ago I’m not going to spend too much time on its story or basic gameplay, but we’ll go through it all briefly. As one of four Vault Hunters you land on Pandora with the aim being to find and defeat Handsome Jack, a likeable dick who has taken over the planet following the events of the firs game which the game will quickly recap for you. That’s pretty much it for the plot, but what makes it so much fun is the cast of mad-cap characters you meet along the way, from the love/hate antics of Claptrap the robot to the consistently hilarious insults from Handsome Jack who loves to chat over the comm.
The core Borderlands loop of shooting and looting is showing its age a little, the repetitive missions constantly devolving into nothing more than, “run there, get that thing, shoot everything in sight,” and yet despite that it’s still a blast to play. The gunplay feels great and the thousands of different weapon variations still trigger the loot-fiend in me who just wants to find the coolest stuff possible. It makes me ache for Borderlands 3, a game which must surely be coming at some point.
This is the entirety of Borderlands 2 meaning you get dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay, the kind of expansive experience PSVR is often said to be lacking in. However, the leap to VR has come at the cost of one of the series’ biggest selling points; co-op. Citing balance reasons Gearbox decided to cut the co-op out entirely which feels like a massively poor decision as Borderlands 2 with friends in VR could have been amazing.
There’s two control options available; regular Dualshock controller or Move controllers. Opt for the first and what you get is basically Borderlands 2 but with the ability to move your head around to see the world. To be honest, while it may not be as immersive the Dualshock option is still pretty damn good fun.
Using the dual Move controllers does result in one very strange thing: all weapons are held in a single hand which looks rather peculiar when it comes to large sniper rifles, rocket launchers and just about everything that isn’t a pistol or SMG. You can always bring up your other hand to give the illusion that it’s gripping the weapon, I suppose, but that has the unfortunate effect of showing that the iron sights seems to be a little off compared top the on-screen reticule.
The control scheme may also catch you off at first using the Moves, but it won’t take long to become used to it. By holding the central button on the left controller (assuming you’re not playing with reversed controls, you left-handed weirdo) you can walk forward, or move side-to-side or even backwards by angling the controller. On the right you have your two buttons for turning as well as the jump/blink. Even with practice you’re probably never going to be anywhere near as quick and effective as when using a Dualshock, but before long I was still able to get around quickly and was weaving in and out of cover, though I did find myself stopping to shoot quite often whereas with the Dualshock I would have kept strafing. With more practice, though, I’ll probably stop doing that.
The other disappointment stems from the lack of Aim controller support, something that seems like a no-brainer in a fast-paced FPS like this. Gearbox say this is due to the Gunzerker class being able to dual-wield briefly as his special abilities, but the obvious solution her would seem to be just to have both guns aim at the same target. Perhaps we’ll see Aim support added in the future.
But on the plus side Borderlands 2 gets a raft of comfort options so that you tweak the VR to your heart’s content. Not only can you opt between regular movement and the ability to jump but you can also select standard movement as well as teleport which helps get the pace of the action back up when you learn to use it. You can also play around with movement speed and tunnel vision to help reduce potential motion sickness, as well as choose between smooth turning or click turning. Hell, there’s even an option to change the angle of your weapon in-game to better fit how you hold the Move controller, and another to adjust in-game height so that it better fits your perspective. Other developers take note, this is how you do it.
If there’s one area the option are lacking it’s in regard to the HUD. The map, health bars and other information are scattered around the edge of your display but are quite small and I found it difficult to focus on them without straining my eyes. A few options to adjust their size and positioning would have been great.
Though it may be six years old Borderlands 2 looks terrific in VR. The cell-shaded graphics used to cover up the fact that textures weren’t detailed, but in VR where the Playstation’s power struggles at times it helps out even more. You don’t mind the lack of detailed textures because the art-style looks so great and the raw performance is superb.
But enough of the technical stuff because how does it play? Awesome. That’s how. With the Move controllers the pace is definitely slower than with a regular Dualshock controller but the trade-off of feeling like you’re in the world and wielding cool guns is more than worth it. The big bosses take on a whole different meaning when you have to physically look up at them before casually pointing an assault rifle at their face and pulling the trigger. Likewise the first time I got right next to a bad guy, fired off my shotgun and watched them get ripped in half was a moment I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
However, I do want to mention that the enemies feel considerably less dangerous than they were originally. It’s very possible to stand out in the open for a prolonged amount of time without dying, something which I assume was done to help with the lower mobility of the player.
A new twist to the gameplay is the inclusion of a slow-mo ability that you can trigger at the touch of a button, another obvious attempt to help combat the fact that you won’t be as quick and nimble using Move controllers as you would normally be. Don’t fret, though, because even if you plug in a regular Dualshock controller you can still go all slow-mo and blast bad guys to bits, or you can just ignore it completely.
However, one other new feature doesn’t quite work as well. By pulling the trigger on the left Move controller (unless you’ve swapped the controls around) the aiming reticule will tighten up and the tunnel vision effect will kick in to help you focus. It’s a fine idea especially since the one-handed holding of weapons makes aiming down the sights normally a tad awkward, but the problem comes when you try it with a scoped gun which brings up a screen-in-a-screen that appears to run at about 10FPS. As you can imagine this makes using the long-range guns, like sniper rifles, a royal pain in the arse. Hopefully Gearbox get this patched soon.
Outside of the annoying issue with scopes there’s only one truly big problem with Borderlands 2 and that’s the price-tag. Sure, for £40 you’re getting a game packed with dozens upon dozens of hours of content, but let’s not forget this is also a six-year-old game and the package doesn’t include either the co-op or any of the DLC. Of course, I have no idea how much work and time went into translating the whole experience into VR; perhaps that alone makes the price-tag justified in order to cover the development costs.
So maybe it isn’t the big, brand-new triple-A title that PSVR fans are hoping for, but Borderlands 2 in VR is one hell of an experience and absolutely worth playing for anyone that never played it when it first came out. For Borderlands 2 veterans it’s a tougher sell given the price-tag. Personally, though, despite the many, many hours I put into the game six years ago, playing it in VR made me want to sink many, many more into.